Next month, we will be able to call the founder of the Knights of Columbus “blessed.” Indeed, as we look forward to the upcoming beatification of Father Michael J. McGivney, we recall the mission he had for the Knights of Columbus. And at the heart of that mission was the insurance program – one that he himself founded, and one that would grow to be one of the most respected life insurance programs in North America.*
It’s no surprise Father McGivney would include an insurance program when founding the Order, because he knew firsthand the devastation that a lack of proper insurance planning can bring to Catholic families.
As a young seminarian, Michael was forced to leave his studies and return home to aid his family after the sudden death of his father, Patrick. Without his father’s income, the family was unable to support Michael financially, and he was only able to continue his studies after receiving a scholarship from the local bishop.
Less than a decade later, Father McGivney, then an associate pastor at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut, faced a similar situation. One of his parishioners, Edward Downes, Jr., was also forced to quit the seminary and return home to New Haven to support his mother and twelve siblings after his father died unexpectedly.
In those days, the court had the right to assign children to public institutions if it had reason to believe that their families could not properly support them. The Downeses were able to account for most of their family members, but were facing the very real prospect of losing their three teenage boys unless each had a guardian to sponsor and stand for him in court, and provide $1,500 to back the claim to guardianship.
On Feb. 6, 1882 – the very same day as the first meeting for what would become the Knights of Columbus – Father McGivney appeared in court to stand as guardian for Edward’s brother Alfred. The court accepted, and Father McGivney was satisfied with the outcome, but not with the recurring nightmare of financial hardship.
“Even though he was only a young man,” according to the biography of Father McGivney, “he was filled with a lifetime of anger and frustration at the sense of doom that settled over nearly every family that lost its wage earner… On the afternoon of February 6, he was more determined than ever that what had happened to the Downes family need not happen to anyone else.”
In that spirit, Father McGivney set off with “entrepreneurial zeal” to establish the Knights of Columbus. In his own words, Father McGivney wanted the organization to “unite the men of our Faith throughout the Diocese of Hartford, that we may thereby gain strength to aid each other in time of sickness; to provide for decent burial, and to render pecuniary assistance to the families of the deceased members.”
The initial system of “life insurance” designed by Father McGivney was a simple one, a pass-the-hat system through which each member could help support his brother Knights.
As membership grew so too did the insurance program. The Knights of Columbus has passed many milestones and received many accolades along the way: $113 billion of life insurance in force; over 40 years of superior ratings from A.M. Best; and 18 consecutive years of sales growth, but all that is secondary.
What matters most is that we continue to fulfill Father McGivney’s mission of offering and providing financial protection for Catholic families.
2020 is not 1882. Times are different. But even for those families who may have slightly more than next-to-nothing, insurance protection can be the difference between getting by and getting evicted. In its role as the premier Catholic life insurer, the Knights of Columbus continues to provide a valuable and noble service.
That’s why we offer life insurance.
It’s not the $113 billion in force, it’s the homes saved, the college tuitions provided, the Catholic funerals paid for, and the families shielded that create the legacy of protection that would make Father McGivney proud.
Contact your dedicated Knights of Columbus field agent – who is himself a brother Knight – and see what we might be able to offer to you and your family.
Share your story of how your council is helping strengthen people’s faith and offering support during this time. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in a weekly edition of Knightline, a resource for K of C leaders and members. Access Knightline’s monthly archives.
*As of January 2020, rated A+, Superior for financial strength by A.M. Best
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